Life in Every Limb

The Hardest Part about Being a Woman: There’s No One Answer

The Hardest Part of Being a Woman

Poor Caitlyn Jenner.  How quickly the accolades change to attacks, all because of a few poorly chosen words.

In case you haven’t heard, Jenner was honored last night at the 25th Annual Glamour Women of the Year Awards.  In a Buzzfeed interview, Jenner stated: “The hardest part about being a woman is figuring out what to wear.”

Jenner said a lot of other things too, none of which will be remembered.  Also left out of the discussion will be an important part of the interviewer’s question, the two words “FOR YOU.”

Jenner did not say that fashion was the hardest part of being a woman for every woman.  I doubt it makes the top ten for most of us.  I work at home and my everyday wardrobe is whatever nightgown  I slept in.  I just got back from taking my daughter to work and for that I slipped into a stretchy skirt from Wal-Mart, a Georgetown t-shirt, and the pair of my son’s Crocs that were nearest to the door.  And no bra.  But I can do that because there are no paparazzi lurking in my bushes.  Caitlyn Jenner has to look good all the time or face the consequences on the cover of the National Enquirer the next day.  I could see how that would be very hard.

Caitlyn Jenner will never suffer through a difficult pregnancy, or have to worry about finding quality childcare, or be forced to abandon a cherished career to stay home with kids.  Jenner won’t spend long days with a house full of small children, or be a single mother living on welfare while looking for a minimum wage job, or even put up with monthly cramps and mood swings.  Starting to live as a woman at the age of 65, and as a wealthy and famous woman at that, means Jenner will miss out on a lot of the difficulties experienced by most women.

So let’s cut Jenner a little slack and realize that this is a question that each woman might answer differently, depending on her stage of life and her experience.  I almost hesitate to even answer the question, since I don’t want to imply that I believe being a woman is uniquely difficult, or somehow harder than being a man.  Personally, I think life is hard, no matter your gender.

But as I reflected on the question, I decided that FOR ME, the hardest part of being a woman is living up to societal expectations:  the pressure to be a perfect mother, to seek personal fulfillment through a career, to take care of everyone and everything, and to be thin–but not TOO thin!–while doing it.

Of course, while I won’t presume to speak for them, men face daunting societal pressures as well, and some of those pressures may seem to conflict with one another:  to support a family financially and succeed in a career while spending more time with the kids, to be strong but sensitive, to be a gentleman while also treating women as equals.

How would YOU answer the question?  What is the hardest part of being a woman (or a man, if you happen to be one!) for you?

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Staying Home: Unpacking the Concepts of Privilege, Luxury, and Sacrifice

STAYING HOME_ Luxury, Privilege, Sacrifice

It was always my plan to stay home with my children, not just when they were babies, but always.  But Emily was born when John was just starting law school, so I worked 20 hours a week from the time she was four months old until she was three-and-a-half.  There were a couple of breaks in there–two months between jobs, five months when Jake was first born.  I finally came home for good when John graduated and got his first job as an attorney, when I was about five months pregnant with my third child.

So I’ve never worked full-time outside of the home since having kids–although I did right up until a few days before Emily was born.  And I’ve been at home full-time for a little over 21 years (although I have worked at home for many of those years, more and more as time has gone by).  I have no doubt that this has been the right choice for our family.

But financially, it hasn’t been easy, and that’s why I sometimes question society’s assumptions about stay-at-home mothers (which I will now abbreviate as SAHM).

Some people say that being an SAHM is a privilege, a blessing, even a hobby:

No, Stay-at-Home-Mothers, choosing to create your own little person upon whom you’ll spend all your time and energy is a hobby. It is a time-consuming, sanity-deteriorating, life-altering hobby — a lot like a heroin addiction, but with more Thirty-One bags. Whether you call it a “blessing” or a “privilege,” the fact remains that having someone else foot the bill for a lifestyle that only benefits you and your close family is by no means a “job.”

“I am so blessed. I have a faithful husband, gorgeous and healthy children, a beautiful home, and I am fortunate enough to stay home and enjoy my blessings.”

Others call it a luxury:

[T]he ability to stay home is, indeed, a luxury. Not in the sense of being some “nonessential” merchandise, but in the sense of having a choice.  A Chanel bag may be thought of as a luxury, but really it’s the ability to buy the Chanel bag in the first place — or an iPhone, a TV, a fancy car — without forgoing, say, food or shelter that is the true luxury. The luxury is in having the choice.

There are those who say it’s a job.  They give it titles like CEO of the household or domestic engineer, and even assign an economic value to the services a SAHM provides to her family:

Is parenting, and in particular mothering, a job? I’d say it most certainly is, but not in the same way we think about a career. It’s one that goes unpaid, for sure, but it’s a job nonetheless. After all, when we can’t do it ourselves, we actually pay people to do it for us, whether that’s a babysitter, nanny or daycare.

Other people describe it as a sacrifice women make, trading financial security and career success for the domestic trenches:

Yes – some women are able to stay home because they are just rolling in dough. But I don’t know any of those people. All the stay at home moms I know sacrifice every single day to do what they do.

No matter how you describe it, someone is going to bristle.  For those of us who have endured significant financial insecurity because of staying home, calling it a privilege or a luxury feels insulting.  Luxury implies something unnecessary and who wants to feel unnecessary?  Privilege makes it sound easy when it isn’t.  We lived in a small house and drove one car and fell behind in our bills.  But at the same time I know that there are other mothers who want to stay home and can’t because they would have no house and no car at all, women who are single mothers or whose husbands work full-time minimum wage jobs.

If it’s a job, then we are all working for free and no one takes our choice of career very seriously!  It IS hard work being at home all day long with kids and doing all the thing SAHMs do, but what about all the mothers who work outside the home and then have to come home and do most of those things too, without having had the (dare I say) privilege of being with their babies all day?

And if we call it a job and complain about how hard it is, aren’t we being ungrateful for the very fact that we have kids at all, let alone that we are lucky enough to get to spend all our time with them?

And if we call it a sacrifice, that implies there is a good reason to make that sacrifice, that somehow it is better for kids to have their mother at home with them full time than not.  But that comes across as offensive to some women who could stay home but choose not to make those sacrifices.

Finally, if we assign value to women being home with their kids, then why is it a privilege or a luxury reserved for those whose husbands have a job that can support the family? Why should it require huge financial sacrifices? If it’s good for kids in privileged families, isn’t it just as good for kids in poor families? Why do we demonize women who receive welfare payments in order to stay home with their kids, and applaud those same women if they leave their kids to go work at a minimum wage job?

What do you think?  Is staying home with your children a privilege, a job, a hobby, a sacrifice, none, a combination, or something else?  Should it be a choice that is available to everyone?

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Autumn Gardening

You may have noticed my more regular posting schedule lately, because it’s November and I am once again participating in NaBloPoMo.  That means a post per day.  And it’s hard, VERY hard, for me to find the time.

So today I’m posting a few pictures, and writing a little about my garden.

Camellia Blossom

Camellia Blossom

Today is one of those impossibly beautiful autumn days, sunny and crisp, and because we haven’t yet had a killing frost, my garden is still in bloom!

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The (over)abundance of rain we’ve had over the past few weeks has made digging very easy, so I’ve been able to expand my flowerbed by several feet since the last time I shared pictures here.  I have purchased but not yet added higher-quality dirt and mulch, so you can see the rock-filled clay soil that I am attempting to grow things in!

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I’m in the middle of transplanting things that I put too close together or that are too tall or short for their current locations, setting out mums and pansies, and adding some peonies and irises that were my grandmother’s, removed from her garden because they house was recently sold.

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I may have mentioned before that I am a pretty lazy gardener and I don’t really follow the rules, so we will have to wait for spring to see what comes of all this.  In the meantime, I am having a lot of fun.  Writing and gardening are the two activities that I never have enough time for AND which make me happiest.

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Birthday Girl

Tomorrow Lorelei, our baby, will turn 11.  True to her birth order, she’s very much still the “baby” of the family, although she is surprisingly capable if no one is around to baby her.

Lorelei is homeschooled, and thus somewhat sheltered from a culture that pressures little girls to grow up too soon, and I like it that way.  Many 11-year-olds have already moved on from toys to boys.  Not this girl.

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True, she will be using those stuffed animals to star in the music videos that she films and uploads to her very own YouTube channel, but she also picks at least one to cuddle with every night.   She had names for each one of these picked out before her birthday even arrived.

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Right after her party guests left yesterday (we will be celebrating her actual birthday with dinner at Texas Roadhouse, her request), she went to film a video displaying her birthday gifts.  This is apparently a thing that “Kinz Tubers” (girls who make YouTube videos featuring their Webkinz stuffed toys) do whenever they have a birthday.  They also make videos of themselves unwrapping new toys when they come in the mail, and they work together to make collaborative videos called MEPs.  There is a whole language that comes along with this, and it has been fun to see Lorelei getting involved with her own little online world and teaching herself the many new skills that are involved in becoming part of it.

Being able to use stuffed toys as props in somewhat more grownup pursuits is a neat way for little girls on the edge of adolescence to keep a foot in both worlds.  I love the combination of big girl and little girl, but I hope the little girl part stays with us for awhile longer.

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My Sunday Photo

This photo is special to me for a couple of reasons.  The icon was a Christmas gift from my daughter.  I suppose it’s meant as a Christmas decoration but I love it too much so I keep it out all year.  The candle holder is a new one meant to fit the peacock theme we have going on in our living room.  The prior residents of this house had painted peacocks in various places.  We discovered that peacocks are a Christian symbol of resurrection, and as that was particularly apt (since we moved here after losing everything in a house fire) we decided to go with it.

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OneDad3Girls
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Too Much Stuff: An All-American Problem

TOO MUCH STUFF

Americans have a lot of stuff.  Let’s take a look at some of these statistics excerpted from Joshua Becker’s article in his blog, Becoming Minimalist, shall we?

  • There are 300,000 items in the average American home (LA Times).

I have no intention of counting, but I wouldn’t be surprised.  We used to have a really cool book that showed people from various countries standing outside their homes with all their earthly goods.  The contrast between Americans and just about everyone else was staggering.

  • The average size of the American home has nearly tripled in size over the past 50 years (NPR).

Remember The Brady Bunch? Three boys in one room, three girls in the other?  That wouldn’t cut it nowadays.  The house we are currently renting has an astonishing eight bedrooms (one is used as an office).  They are not big rooms, but everyone has his or her own.

  • And still, 1 out of every 10 Americans rent offsite storage—the fastest growing segment of the commercial real estate industry over the past four decades. (New York Times Magazine).

That would be us, despite the aforementioned large home, but ours is just for the old office files.  Isn’t it bizarre, though, that we as a country own so much stuff that we pay extra rent to house things we don’t use?  Does this make financial sense?

  • 25% of people with two-car garages don’t have room to park cars inside them and 32% only have room for one vehicle. (U.S. Department of Energy).

Us again.  Besides the usual garage stuff, ours has more office files, and a lot of furniture we are hoping to offload to our big kids as they move out.  And did you know that with houses of a certain size, it’s hard to sell them unless they have a THREE-car garage?

  • 3.1% of the world’s children live in America, but they own 40% of the toys consumed globally (UCLA).

As my regular readers will recall, in 2011 our house burned down, leaving our kids with very few toys.  I am astonished at how quickly that changed.

  • The average American woman owns 30 outfits—one for every day of the month. In 1930, that figure was nine (Forbes).

I’m pretty sure I am below average here, but only because after all my clothes burned up I consciously decided to only buy what I absolutely needed and to ruthlessly purge things as soon as they did not fit or were not being worn.

That’s actually better than I would have predicted.

  • But our homes have more television sets than people. And those television sets are turned on for more than a third of the day—eight hours, 14 minutes (USA Today).

We currently have three working televisions for five people in residence.  And they are not turned as long as that, but we won’t discuss the computers.

  • Currently, the 12 percent of the world’s population that lives in North America and Western Europe account for 60 percent of private consumption spending, while the one-third living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa accounts for only 3.2 percent (Worldwatch Institute).

That’s just sick, y’all.

  • Americans spend $1.2 trillion annually on nonessential goods—in other words, items they do not need (The Wall Street Journal).

In the years since I lost everything, I have resisted cluttering my life and my home up with more stuff.  The rest of my family has not resisted.  Despite regular trips to Goodwill, our house is still overflowing with unnecessary and redundant items.  You would think the stuff breeds secretly after we are all asleep.

Today I saw this book, which I have been hearing a lot about:

I’m wondering if this would help me get a handle on the situation around here.  As I type, Lorelei is making (while whining about it) multiple trips upstairs carrying junk of all description which she has left where it does not belong.  The irony? She is cleaning up to prepare for her birthday party, at which she will be receiving MORE STUFF.

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#LoveYourLawyerDay: Why I Love My Lawyer (and It’s Not Just Because I Am Married to Him)

So today is Love Your Lawyer Day, which you can read about here.

Y’all, this is not a joke.  Now, we are not a hyper-sensitive bunch here, and we can laugh at a good lawyer joke now and again, but the constant vilification of the members of the legal profession can get a little tiresome.

Especially if you know MY lawyer.

Law School Graduation edited

My lawyer works hard for his clients every day.  Even though he is appointed to represent many of them by the State of Tennessee, which means they are not the ones paying him.  Even though the aforementioned State of Tennessee has not seen fit to give appointed attorneys a raise in 20 years.  Even though attorneys who represent the poor in Tennessee are among the lowest paid in the entire United States.

But if you are a poor person being represented by MY lawyer, you would never know that.  Even when he has reached the cap for your case, or the cap for the calendar year, and is working for FREE.  He will keep working, and he will keep looking out for your interests, and he will give your case the same attention he gives to that of his paying clients.

My lawyer treats his clients with respect and dignity.  Most seasoned attorneys do very little indigent defense work because it is not profitable.  My lawyer is proud to be able to provide his indigent clients with the benefit of his over twenty years of experience.  He stands up for them against a system that is often unfair to them just because they are poor.

My lawyer cares deeply about the neglected kids he represents as Guardian ad Litem.  He visits their homes and takes the time to form a relationship with them.  He talks to teachers and counselors if necessary.  He takes very seriously his job of determining what is in their best interests.

My lawyer worries about the fate of his juvenile clients.  He knows that they are just kids, and that kids do stupid things.  He knows that many of them have had the deck stacked against them from the start.

My lawyer always sends out his bills late because he is too busy taking care of his clients to take the time to review and initial them.  He is not in this for the money (though luckily for our family I am the administrator of this office and I am not as altruistic as he is).  He is always lowering his rates, giving people deals, cutting their bills, offering payment plans, forgetting to record all his time, doing things for free.

My lawyer answers his phone at night and on weekends, even if he is trying to rest, unless I turn the ringer off.

My lawyer doesn’t have a fancy office downtown.  He works at home so that he can spend more time with his family.  Even though he ALWAYS has work to do, he makes time to come to every school function, meeting, or conference.

My lawyer looks like a lawyer.  Seriously, he gets stopped on the street and asked if he is a lawyer! He wears suits every day, which he likes to accessorize with seasonal ties and socks.

My lawyer is a good lawyer, even though he doesn’t always think so.  His hard work pays off and he gets good results for his clients.  People who have legal troubles are not happy, and they aren’t legal professionals, so often they are not as appreciative as they should be.  They don’t always pay their bills, even when they are very satisfied.  But he keeps right on doing his best for them.

My lawyer is my husband and my best friend.  He is a good lawyer and a good man, and he deserves a day like this.

If you have your own lawyer, show him or her a little love today.  And if you don’t, I can recommend a great one.

John with Cat

##LoveYourLawyerDay

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The Gift of Siblings

This summer I read an article in the online version of Elle Magazine, which read in part:

Sometimes, I can see us living in a smaller, older home somewhere, selling this one, and adjusting to accommodate life with a third child in a home that is definitely anything but a dream, but then I overhear our boys having a blast playing in our big, beautiful, safe backyard, or listen to their laughter billowing out of the colorful playroom space we have created and designed just for them, and I know this was always meant to be our forever home. This is the American dream and we are in it, living it, every day, just the four of us.

With that said, the sacrifice has been made. Because we live in this dream home, we can only afford to have two children. It’s our quiet sacrifice but it’s also our beautiful life, well-earned and fully-lived.

I don’t even know where to start with this.  I mean, I understand that not everyone feels like they can handle a big family.  And believe me, I know that there are financial concerns involved in the raising of children.  But when I think of the families I knew growing up, with nine and ten kids in average-sized houses, two and three kids sharing a room, I wonder which of their siblings they might have liked to give up for the privilege of living in some dream house.

When William was born, we were living in a three-bedroom, 1400 square foot home.  We had to pick up his cradle and move it in order to open our dresser drawers.  We didn’t even have a minivan; we had to wedge poor Jake in the middle of the front seat of my Mercury Sable when the whole family went anywhere. We were a one-car family for long stretches of time.  We moved into what seemed like a dream home to me, but was actually a 120-year old money pit.  Everyone had a bedroom, until Lorelei came along.  She slept in our room, we kept her clothes in William’s room, and her toys were in the den, but she didn’t care.

Little kids DO NOT CARE about dream houses.  They don’t need their own rooms and they don’t need a colorful playroom space.  Those things are nice, but my kids liked playing in the woods behind our house and making mud-holes with the hose and swimming in their plastic pool with their siblings.

Something is wrong with a society that equates the American Dream with having All The Things, especially when it means putting those things before people.  When parents have another child, they aren’t taking something away from their existing kids, they are GIVING them something, something much better and longer-lasting than any material possession.

Someday those boys in the article will grow up, and they won’t play in that backyard or laugh in that playroom any longer.  What they will always have is each other, and what they WON’T have is another sister or brother.

Photo Credit: John E. Clark, Sr.

NaBloPoMo November 2015

After Three It Just Gets Louder

And the Survey Says- After Three It Just Gets Louder

When it comes to kids, three is the magic number… for stress.

Mothers of three children stress more than moms of one or two, while mothers of four or more children actually report lower stress levels

At least that’s what a survey from Today.Com claims, about which more right here.

More recently, you might have read this:

Parents of large families were found to have the most life satisfaction, according to a study by Australia’s Edith Cowan University.

Read all about it right here.

These articles provide welcome validation to those of us with larger families, who are more used to hearing things like this:

Boy, you have your hands full!

Don’t you know what causes that yet?

Better you than me!

 I don’t know how you do it!

Are they all yours?

Do they all have the same father? (yes, someone did actually ask me that once!)

I don’t happen to think that five kids is that many because I grew up knowing many families of nine or ten.  But it’s more than twice that 2.3 kid average, so it’s not the norm for most people.

Do I agree with the studies? Yes, for my own reasons.

For me, the most difficult parenting transition was from one to two kids.  Once you find out that yes, you CAN love two kids, and you CAN split your attention between them, adding the third is not that hard (although waiting more than 12 months to do that might be good, not that I would know).

Going from two to three, the main change is that you are outnumbered.  Once you are outnumbered, it doesn’t really matter how outnumbered you are!  After three, it just gets louder.  Really.

Three little kids was hard, though.  Most of that first year is a blur.  But since most of us don’t have kids in a litter, by the time you have four kids the oldest one can help you, probably quite a lot.  I was on bedrest when William was born.  Emily was ten, and made her own and her little brothers’ lunches every morning before school.  By the time Lorelei was born, we had an in-home babysitter whenever we needed to get away.

Having lots of kids frees you from having to do All The Things, because it’s impossible to do all the things.  Taking care of four or more kids makes you supermom without having to volunteer for everything at school, keep a perfect house, and do Pinterest-worthy crafts in your spare time (spare time–LOL).

Illusions of control are shattered as well.  If you have just one kid, and he’s a brat, you think you are a terrible parent.  Likewise, if your kid is perfect, you think you deserve the credit.  Trust me, with four or more you are going to learn that kids are the way they are and it has a lot less to do with how you parent than you thought it did.  This is immensely freeing.

As for life satisfaction, it’s not like I don’t crave personal fulfillment and viral blog posts, but it’s hard for me to imagine anything that could provide more satisfaction in the long term than helping to create ACTUAL HUMAN BEINGS who are all different and interesting and separate from you and who will be around remembering you (fondly, you hope) after you are gone.

 

What Not to Say to the Parent of a Picky Eater

What NOT to Say to the Parent of a Picky Eater

You know, I’m not really a big fan of all those “what not to say” posts.  Because I think that most of the time people mean well, and the people who don’t mean well are going to keep right on saying whatever they want to anyway.

But hey! There’s a first time for everything, right? And today I feel like ranting about What Not to Say to the Parent (that would be me) of a Picky Eater (that would be William).

So what should you not say?  Probably pretty much anything you are thinking of saying.  Just don’t say it.  Because William is 14, and you can be pretty sure that whatever you are dying to tell me I already know about and it won’t work.  If you want a list:

  1. Don’t tell me he won’t grow or that he will be malnourished.  He is almost 6 feet tall, he’s had his blood checked, he takes a vitamin every day, and I cannot remember a time he had to visit a doctor for an actual illness.
  2. Don’t tell me that if I just don’t give him the food he wants he will eat the other foods I want him to.  There are things that William will NEVER eat.
  3. Don’t tell me to force him to eat vegetables or else.  See above.
  4. Don’t tell me that I’ve spoiled him by not making him eat whatever you think he should eat.  When you have a child who is this picky, you feed him whatever he will eat because he needs calories, even nutritionally inferior calories.
  5. Don’t tell me what YOU would do if you were me.  Let’s make a deal, okay? You do what works for you with your kids, and I’ll do what works for me with mine.

How picky is William?  He won’t eat any vegetables except baby corn cobs.  He won’t eat any fruits.  He likes pasta with salt and pepper, but only angel hair (spaghetti under duress).  He won’t eat hamburgers, pizza, or macaroni and cheese.  He likes crab, canned tuna, most chicken, rice, Asian food, ice cream, milk, some juice, bread, and most (but not all!) sweet things.  This isn’t a complete list, but you get the idea.  William’s pickiness is difficult enough that it has an impact on his life and his family’s.

William has ALWAYS been picky.  This is not my fault.  I did not do anything different with him than I did with my first three kids, who are now grownups who eat pretty much everything, and who were not particularly picky as children.  Shortly after I introduced William to solids, he started spitting out his baby food.  In would go the spoon, then squash (or whatever) would spew through the air.  It didn’t matter what I tried.  Even bananas! What baby doesn’t like those?

It’s a good thing that he was breastfed, because that continued (no lie!) to be his main source of nourishment until he was about two.  For a long time the only things he would eat were butter and sugar sandwiches and he wouldn’t drink cow’s milk unless it was sweetened too.  So really, I look at what he eats now and feel like we’ve come a long way.

I realize now that William wasn’t just going through some kind of phase like I assumed back then, and that this isn’t something that he is growing out of like I’d hoped.  He has actual issues that cause his eating difficulties, and had I realized this back when he was a baby there were likely therapies that could have helped.  But I cannot beat myself up for what I did not know, and now William is an adolescent who can try new foods himself if he decides that he wants to.
NaBloPoMo November 2015

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